The 7 Most Common Weaknesses of Local Shops
And what we’re all going to do about them.
As we head into the busy holiday shopping season, we’ll see lots of Shop Local messages working to get customers to think about shifting their shopping more to local stores. I want to add another layer, and get rural business owners to think about making Better Local Shopping to hold on to those customers.
After thinking about these issues of local shopping for several years now, I’ve come up with what I see as the top 7 most common weaknesses of small town shops. The more we (local businesses) work to improve in these areas, the more we can make local shopping better and earn the new-found local loyalty of our shoppers.
Because we have the Shop Local movement pushing more people to think about local, all the efforts we make at improving turns into a virtuous cycle: better local shopping, more people thinking local, more sales captured, more repeat sales earned, more prosperity for business, more prosperity in the community.
I’m launching a seven week series on the weaknesses and what we can do about them.
If you’re a local business, you can take these to heart. Make an honest effort to improve in each of these areas over the next 7 weeks. That takes us up to Thanksgiving holiday in the US, Shop Small Saturday, and the final few weeks of holiday shopping everywhere.
If you’re with a Chamber of Commerce or other business organization, you can gather a small group of merchants who want to work on these together. Meet, go over the weakness, brainstorm some ideas, and maybe find ways to share resources and turn them into strengths.
- Weakness 1: Limited Business Hours
- Weakness 2. Poor Customer Service
- Weakness 3. Limited Selection
- Weakness 4: High Prices
- Weakness 5: Dated Appearance or Ugly Buildings
- Weakness 6. Not Marketing
- Weakness 7. Failing the Showrooming Test
Weakness 1. Limited Business Hours
Solution: Be open more evenings and weekends.
Why? Because “70% of all consumer retail spending takes place after 6:00 pm.”
That’s according to Roger Brooks. “While we [customers] are moving to the European standard of dining and shopping later in the evenings, downtowns haven’t made the change at all.”
Idea 1. Be open during the best retail times.
Bob Phibbs, the Retail Doctor, said, “Studies have shown that, in order, these are the best money making times for retail:”
- Saturday 11 am – 1 pm
- Saturday 3 pm – 5 pm
- Sunday 3 pm – 5 pm
- Sunday 11 am – 1 pm
If you aren’t open weekends, you just missed all four of these.
“Build a schedule for your employees around those higher sales times. Put the customer first when you schedule, not the employee,” Phibbs said.
Idea 2. Be open during evening sales, strolls or art walks.
This lets you ease businesses into longer hours a little at a time. Have artists display their works or musicians perform. Put out refreshments. Run specials or offer other incentives to make a purchase.
Update: If you’ve had trouble getting customers to come into your store when you’re open during evening events, try this practical suggestion in Making evening hours profitable for small town retail stores.
Idea 3: Tie in with businesses that already do evening hours. Check all your existing businesses to see if some, like banks, already stay open late. Use their open hours as an anchor to help attract other businesses.
Ideas 4. Share the cost of adding staff.
New evening and weekend hours will mean a need for increased staffing for most businesses. Catherine Sak, Executive Director of the Texas Downtown Association, said: “I’m part of an open group on LinkedIn – Downtown Revitalization – and one group member mentioned they were considering developing a shared employee program so that small businesses wouldn’t have to shoulder all of the cost of having additional employees – especially for later hours. Really cool idea that could benefit everyone.”
I can’t wait to hear what you come up with for Idea 5!
Update: If you’ve tried longer business hours, but no one showed up, here are some ideas on how to draw customers to your store for evening hours.
These are the kind of practical suggestions that Deb Brown and I have for you in our Downtown After 5 webinar. Join us.
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This is a common problem in our small town. Many of the businesses are family owned and have trouble affording the extra help or finding reliable help. Working seven days a week is a lot to ask of anyone. I am wondering what are the typical “non peak” hours. Perhaps some businesses could be open by appt only or limit staff during those hours.
Becky McCray says
Lila, that is a great question. Each business could look at their past sales and decide what times could be cut. For my store, opening to 2 pm is our slowest time. Our slowest day varies. Usually it is Tuesday or Wednesday. We could easily choose to only open at 2pm on Tuesday and Wednesday, and use that staff time to extend our hours. I can’t say that it’s the same for every business, but that’s my experience.
Jason E Camis says
Couldn’t agree more Becky on your first weakness. As someone who both runs a chamber of commerce, is Gen X and wants to support my community and buy local, it’s a struggle. My wife works out of town and we just can’t shop before 5pm and we’re lucky if places are open on Saturdays, let alone Sundays. If I was a retail business (and many service businesses) I would consider shifting my traditional 9/10am-5pm to more like 12-7pm. Business is then open same amount of hours yet are open to those who can’t shop before 5pm. And while I love the “walks or sales”, there’s often unrealistic expectations that doing it once or for a month with no further advertising will make it huge and then the business simply reverts back to the old way. Love to see how other communities make these successful over the long haul.
Becky McCray says
Jason, it does take good communication, including advertising, to let customers know about new hours. And once a month is not a complete solution; it’s only a step in the right direction. I’d love to share more stories and hear from more businesses and towns that are trying to make the shift.
Steve Dieterichs says
This is good information, but it would be a lot more credible to our merchants if we could cite the actual studies and statistical sources, rather than just saying that a consultant says so. I’ve looked unsuccessfully for that 70% of spending hours statistic for a couple of years. I’d love to know where it comes from.
Becky McCray says
Steve, I’ve asked Roger Brooks for his source. In the mean time, I can offer you stats from my own business. We’re open until 9 pm. Our sales from 5 to 9 pm are ALWAYS more than our open to 5 pm sales. Our peak time is usually 7 pm to 8:30 pm. And if you want more statistical ammo, I’d recommend a survey in your own community. Find out when your locals do their retail spending (including online, because that’s part of what you miss when you’re closed). Those local statistics straight from local customers will be far more credible than any other source.
And before anyone says they can’t run a survey locally, of course you can. Check with a community college, nearby university, or statewide university for business or math students in statistics classes to design, carry out and/or analyze the survey. Check with the local high school, too, to see if they study stats. Stop by the county extension office, or call the statewide extension group. See if they offer free or low cost market research and could take on the project.
Becky McCray says
Steve, Roger Brooks has written a piece explaining the sources of the 70% statistic. You’ll find it at 70% of Retail Spending After 6pm – Explained.
Brian Wiedemann says
This is a common “chicken or the egg” dilemma for many small towns. Would more businesses stay open later if more people were downtown? Or, if more people were already downtown, would more businesses would stay open later? What to do???
I think it really depends on the type of business. For example, our local hardware store opens very early and closes by 5:30 to coincide with the typical construction workday. By contrast, my business doesn’t open until noon and we stay open until 10pm (during warm weather, 7pm during cooler months). Most of our business comes from on-premise food and beer sales. We do most of our business after 4pm and we have good sales history to justify those hours of operation.
Yet, I think there’s another factor that should be mentioned: being an entrepreneur is not a 9-5 gig. It can be, but most often it is not, especially when you’re starting out. I’m baffled, frankly, by business owners who maintain a 9-5 schedule, then wonder why they’re not getting more walk-in business. The answer: all your prospective customers are at their 9-5 jobs!
So, my succinct “Idea 5” would be know your customer and know their purchasing patterns.
Becky McCray says
Brian, thanks for jumping in. As a business owner myself, I know it can be very, very hard to make a change to how you’ve always done things. But sometimes, you have to do it.
Vicki Adrian says
Adrian’s Boutique in downtown Buhler is located in a small Kansas town (population 1,200) and l feel that a very important part of our success is that we are ALWAYS open (& we open ON TIME or earlier) for our posted hours…Monday-Saturday 10-5; with later Holiday hours in November & December. I feel that even more important than later hours, is the CONSISTENCY in actually being open! There is nothing more disappointing to a client than driving an hour to visit a small town and finding businesses closed due to “vacation, illness, or even worse, just not feeling like opening today.” Small Business Owners are not Small Hobby Owners… We are professionals that need to reflect that in our operations. You always need to have a Plan B for emergencies. You may not be able to go on a vacation if you do not have coverage at your business. Even closing over the lunch hour will hurt your business. Your customers do run errands and shop over their lunch break.
We would love to have you stop by Adrian’s Boutique…I promise we’ll be OPEN! :-)
Becky McCray says
Vicki, I’m giving you a big round of applause for consistently staying open the hours you say you will! And bonus points for extending that in November and December.
Becky McCray says
Katy sent this comment via email:
Thank you Vicki Adrian!- Actually opening on time, or when you say you will is important. Nothing more vexing that driving ‘in’ 20+ miles to find out that shop is closed, or opening late, or closed early.
Employee sharing- Years ago (when I was younger) waitresses all knew each other no matter who you worked for. We actually had a network that acted as floaters that did fill in or on the fly catering. Everybody knew one of us was only a call away. Later we used that same idea in a very rural part of Eastern Colorado and shared between towns.
It can be done. It does work. Not just for food service, but in other industries as well. The hardest logistics I would say these days, is who is going to pay the ‘floater’. It’s not like the ‘old days’ where it was fairly easy for an employer to hand out cash.
I love this… I’m posting here to give you the customer’s perspective. I work from 8-5. My lunch hour varies between 12 and 2, and I don’t always have an hour. So my prime shopping times are after work, starting around 5:15. I would LOVE to do more ‘local’ shopping, but at that time, the only places that are open are the local grocery store, Wal-Mart, and online retailers.
I cannot emphasize to you just how nice it would be to see our local businesses step up and keep the doors open until 6 or 7 – even one night a week. Yes, you’d have to get the word out. Yes, business might be slow at first. But make it more common, and you’ll get more business. Otherwise, my fellow shoppers and I are going to continue going to the big box store or shop from the couch. Because not everyone can take time from work to accomodate your hours.
The Medical Community should not be exempt from this discussion, by the way. It would be nice to not have to take time off of work, or take my kids out of school to see the doctors or dentist, or to pick up a prescription.
Becky McCray says
Laura, thank you so much for sharing your customer perspective with everyone. And I completely agree that I’d love to see later hours for medical services, too.